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FeaturesMelting pot‘Mushy peas and rugby league – a product that’s found its audience’
Screen Break 11

‘Mushy peas and rugby league – a product that’s found its audience’

by

Martin KelnerBy Martin Kelner                   Brought to you in association with concrete!

16 May 2016

The BBC breathed a sigh of relief when the White Paper on its future was published the other day, and instead of the threatened sanctions – Strictly Come Dancing to be scheduled at 3am, Tony Hall to be given Chinese burns when anything the Daily Mail doesn’t like is broadcast, and Alan Yentob to have his head pushed down the toilet – the Culture Secretary stood up and said: “You’re all doing very well.”

And of course they are in many ways. The Hillsborough documentary shown last week on BBC2 and still available on the iPlayer was painstaking journalism, an extraordinary piece of storytelling, pointing up aspects of the tragedy we had either overlooked or never been told, including the testimony of some of the traumatised policemen on duty on the fateful day.

And would we not all miss Radio Four if the BBC were to be dismantled; for Desert Island Discs at least, and those funny little half-hour documentaries they do at 3.30 in the afternoon on the history of marmalade or T.S.Eliot’s laundry lists?

But just because you love the BBC – which remains one of the most respected British institutions, ahead of the Royal Family, the Church of England, and Coldplay – it doesn’t mean it’s sacrosanct.

In the case of the White Paper, the Government followed the well-established tradition of saying they are about to visit something terrible upon us – plagues of locust, the killing of the first born, and suchlike – only to later say they’ve managed to avoid the locusts and the killing of the kiddies, and all they’re going to do is raise income tax by two-and-a-half pence, for which we then thank them heartily.

So are we glad they’ve more or less left the BBC alone? Well, up to a point. Having recently been deposed from my spot on one of the BBC’s spectacularly unpopular local radio stations – in fairness, they were no less unpopular when I was in situ – I know the 40 stations could continue to broadcast for roughly half of what they currently cost without losing any talent. 

At the moment, they’re run by the BBC’s ludicrous Nations and Regions department, who seem to take it as their sworn duty to ensure the same Four Tops record and ‘phone-in about the sweets/TV programmes/caravan holidays you remember from the old days are heard at more or less the same time in Carlisle and Carshalton. They’re all about governance, but with the BBC Board and Ofcom, and of course the laws of the land, you are paying for levels of governance you just don’t need.

This happens to be the bit of the BBC I know about, but I suspect anyone working in what remains a hideously over-managed organisation could point to similar examples elsewhere. 

Whatever the Government says, one suspects the life of the licence fee is limited to this current agreement. With people now paying for Amazon Prime, Netflix and the like, it begins to look impractical to expect us all to pay £145.50 a year, rising with inflation, just for the privilege of owning a television set, contributing £3.7 billion to the BBC.

Now I am outside the BBC, I can see why this rankles with newspaper organisations, commercial broadcasters and the like, fuelling some of the wilder, often inaccurate, stories in the press about the BBC’s supposed iniquities. Concrete Show

In my own case, I have been writing this column for free on a Sunday evening, giving up the chance to watch with the family some of those excellent BBC dramas, in the hope of finding sponsorship, and the good news is Marwood Events, organisers of the UK Concrete Show 2017, have been generous enough to ‘fritter away’ – as they rather too frankly put it – some of their marketing budget, simply because they like the column.

I’m not sure there’s much in the way of synergy between a semi-humorous column about sport on TV and the UK concrete industry, so I am embarrassingly grateful for the money, and assure those readers unfortunate enough not to work in the concrete industry that the sponsorship will not affect the content of this column. In any case, we’re still some months away from the show, so concrete fever has not really taken hold yet. 

The point is, outside the bosom of the BBC I have had to find new, creative ways to make a living. Some of the managers I worked with would have a seizure if they turned up to one of their many meetings and found nobody had cut the crusts off their sandwiches. 

One consequence of my ejection into the harsh world of commerce is that I am more conscious than ever of sponsors and sponsorship. 

When the players were interviewed in front of the sponsors’ boards at the end of Leeds Rhinos’ Super League defeat to Castleford in on Sky, I noted that alongside the Building Society and Ladbrokes logos, there were some for mushy peas. I may struggle for a connection with concrete, but there’s a product that’s found its audience.

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Screen Break ran in The Guardian for 16 years, and then in the Racing Post. The first two episodes in its current incarnation can be found here, and here. Week three, now better know as ‘The Screen Break that cost Steve McClaren his job’, can be found here. Week four featured the wacky world of Jonny Wilkinson. Week five came witha money-back guarantee on laughs. (It was so funny that nobody at all asked for their money back). Week six was all about managing with an iron bar (and the boat race). Week seven was the Windies winning wonderfully. Week eight was all about Willett’s Masters and a win for England. Then we considered God’s team, followed by people going Leicester gaga, including Emily Maitlis, and the anti-Semitism debate, and then Aston Villa and Newcastle, aka Dim and Dimmer. Also well worth a read is the most amusing ‘My celebrity death match‘. This piece is also a MUST READ. And so is this one.

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And you can follow Martin Kelner on Twitter @MartinKelner

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